Whether he’s being fictionalized as a vampire hunter or being compared to President Obama, Abraham Lincoln is always a relevant historical figure. According to NPR, there have been about 15,000 books published on the 16th president, and it seems that there will always be more to learn about Honest Abe.
Lincoln’s presidency, reputation, stance on slavery, philosophical beliefs, literary works, and even his personal life are constantly being re-examined and looked at from new perspectives. As we celebrate his 209th birthday, here are some of the best books about our top hat-wearing president, filled to the brim with interesting facts and details.
Written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lincoln, a 1995 biography, this collection of 12 essays takes a fresh look at Lincoln’s legacy and reputation, as it wades through the myths that have sometimes complicated our view of Lincoln. Donald digs into the complex relationship between him and his law partner and biographer, William Herndon, and his wife, Mary, and takes another look at the antislavery moment.
Mr. Lincoln's Army
Bruce Catton was easily one of the greatest 20th century historians. Not only was he a Pulitzer Prize winner, but there’s even a lifetime achievement award for writing history in his name. Catton’s books also served as a basis for Ken Burns’ The Civil War documentary. Mr. Lincoln’s Army, the first volume in Catton’s series, The Potomac Trilogy, describes the history of the beginning years of the Civil War and Lincoln’s decision to choose George B. McClellan to lead the Union Army after the secession of the Southern States. Lincoln had a complicated relationship with McClellan, partially to do with the General’s belief that Lincoln was not fit to be commander in chief. Catton’s focus on the military aspects of Lincoln’s presidency adds a crucial viewpoint to the study of his administration.
Bluff, Bluster, Lies and Spies
Perry’s book is perfect for foreign policy enthusiasts and lovers of Lincoln. With a focus on his administration’s relationship with Great Britain during the Civil War, this account illuminates the great naval power’s role and how its interaction with other European countries influenced the Prime Minister’s decisions. Lincoln had to be tactical when confronting the British, and he was aware of the significant effect it could have on the success of the Union or the Confederacy.
The Complete Papers and Writings of Abraham Lincoln
Rather than reading about Lincoln, why not learn more straight from the source? As a lawyer, statesman, and president, Lincoln produced a significant body of writings from 1832 to 1865. These works present Lincoln as a writer, a politician, and a real person through his famous speeches, personal letters, and telegrams. If you want to get a better understanding of Lincoln’s historic ideas, military strategies, and personal thoughts, then this collection is exactly what you should read.
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Not only is Goodwin an expert presidential biographer—who also won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1995—but she is also the recipient of the Lincoln Prize, which is awarded for excellent scholarly work on Lincoln in English. Her biography describes the incredible story of Lincoln’s journey to the presidency—how he defeated his rivals and why he was able to succeed. As Goodwin argues, it was Lincoln’s political skill and understanding of people that led him to win the election and create an administration that would lead the Union to win the Civil War.
Emancipating Lincoln: The Proclamation in Text, Context, and Memory
Harold Holzer, a winner of the Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize—as well as many other Lincoln-related achievements, is probably best known for his award-winning book, Lincoln and the Power of the Press. However, we recommend giving another one of his books a go. Emancipating Lincoln takes a sharp look at the single most important document he produced: The Emancipation Proclamation. By using neglected sources and investigating American responses to the document, Holzer is able to contextualize Lincoln in order to get to the true intention and meaning behind his language.
Lincoln's Body: A Cultural History
If you imagine Daniel Day-Lewis—who portrayed the president in the 2012 film, Lincoln—when you think of Lincoln, then this may be the book you need. Written by a professor who teaches an undergraduate course literally called “The World of Abraham Lincoln,” Lincoln’s Body traces the cultural history of our tallest president (he was 6’4” in case you were wondering). From his height to his “rough appearance,” Fox deciphers how Lincoln’s physicality and appearance contributed to the often-positive way people viewed him, and how it therefore contributed to his success.
Lincoln at Peoria: The Turning Point
Lehrman’s book focuses on the pivotal speech that Lincoln gave in Peoria, Illinois on October 16, 1854. Concentrating on the legal, economic, and, most importantly, moral arguments against slavery, Lincoln’s speech is crucial to the intense historical debates about his position on the subject. In addition to his career as a businessman, economist, and politician, Lehrman is also a historian who has written quite a few books on Lincoln—including Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War, which was just released last month. In 2005, President George W. Bush presented Lehrman with a National Humanities Medal.
Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer
In case the complete collection of Lincoln’s written works wasn’t enough for you, this biography of Lincoln as a literary and philosophical figure should satisfy. Although Lincoln as a writer is a topic that has been explored many times before—particularly by Edmund Wilson, one of the great literary critics of the 20th century, and Garry Wills, who wrote on the significance of the Gettysburg Address—Kaplan demonstrates the gravity of Lincoln’s language, as well as those who influenced him, from a fresh perspective.
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Featured photo: Wikipedia